Hardware/Software UI Relationship

David Duardo dduardo at gmail.com
Tue Jul 17 00:00:06 CEST 2007

Recently, I started playing around with the OpenMoko qemu image to get a
feel for the user interface. Overall, my initial impression was less
than satisfactory. The interface itself felt a bit cumbersome. Of
course, being an open source project, one shouldn't complain but try to
fix the problem. So I started taking some time to try to come up with a
simpler interface. I drew up some rough pencil drawings of a GUI with
just bare necessities as a start: dialer, contacts and messages. Then I
went to the wiki to find out the actually hardware constraints of the
Neo1973 in order to get a realistic idea of what the size the icons and
text can be.

This is where I ran into trouble As high resolution as the the LCD is,
it simply is too small to be used with a finger based user interface,
which is what most people would want to use on a cellphone because it is
most convenient. At the upper bound, with the Neo1973, you can have 3
columns by 4 rows of buttons that are of a comfortable size (.5x.5
inch^2). Actually, the buttons can be slightly smaller and more compact,
but I'm estimating for people with slightly bigger fingers. You can see
can see what I mean in the following image:


Compare this with the iPhone LCD which is only 480x320, but allows for 4
columns by 6 rows of buttons of a comfortable size (.5x.5 inch^2). Again
you can see what I mean in the following image:


To add salt to the wound, the Neo1973 has a bevel around the whole
screen, which further limits the use of the outer portion of the LCD. On
the iPhone, the screen is flush with the case, so you can have buttons
that extend all the way to the extremes of the screen.

I'm fully aware that the Neo1973 is a 1st generation device, but from my
perspective, based on the choice of LCD and the current softare found in
the qemu image, this first phone seems to be heading in the direction of
a PDA with phone capabilities rather than a phone that happens to have
PDA like capabilities .

Is this where the community wants to go? To have an open source PDA like
the Zaurus, but with phone capabilities?

Is this where FIC wants to head, or do they want a phone that appeals to
a more mainstream audience?

Is hardware going to drive development or is some ultimate product goal
going to drive development?

Of all the tasks involved, I believe a cohesive vision between the
hardware and software user interfaces is the greatest challenge to this

For Apple, this is easier, because everything is internally controlled
and they can be keep all the secrets they want without compromising
design of any kind. But when you have a situation where part of the the
development is done at FIC and part of it done by the public, you get
into situations where FIC needs to keep secrets, purely from an
economical and legal standpoint, but at the same time the public needs
to know some of the secrets in order to make sure they are fulfilling
the vision of the completed product.

How can the community and FIC work together to have the most cohesive
vision between the hardware and software user interfaces?

For example, is it possible for community members to contribute during
the hardware development stage? Can we ask why a power button and an aux
button are needed instead of one button on the face of the device that
does both, and then have FIC justify it in hopes that it can might get
changed before manufacturing?

Perhaps I'm asking too much, but nevertheless, I would like to hear your

- David

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